Correctional Psychology And Serial Killers

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Correctional psychology is defined as the application of basic and applied psychological science or scientifically-oriented professional practice to the justice system to enable the proper classification, treatment, and management of offenders. In short, this means counsellors and psychologists who use criminal and basic psychology to work with criminals. The institutions in which correctional psychologists work can be jails, state and federal prisons, juvenile or adult detention centers, and residential “halfway” houses, where inmates may live transitionally after leaving prison. Though correctional psychology sounds similar to forensic psychology, the main difference is that forensic psychologists often evaluate proper punishments for criminals, but correctional psychologists use their skills to improve the mental health of criminals.

Many studies show that between 8-19% of prisons have significant psychiatric or functional disabilities, with another 15-20% requiring some form of psychiatric intervention during their incarceration. A recent history of mental health issues was present in over half of all prison and jail inmates in the United States

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The number of mental health staff in correctional facilities varies greatly by location- some states/facilities have a mental health team consisting of a psychiatrist, psychologist, and a social worker working together, and others may only have one of them. In special units for the severely ill inmates, they may have music, are and occupational therapists, psychiatric nurses, and correctional officers available at any time.

Prisons and jails vary greatly in programs and services offered to inmates- most often, jails will only offer programs like recreation and education, but most prisons involve that and certain vocational programs that are intended to relieve stress and boredom in inmates, and can inspire a sense of positive self-concept in the inmates. At the very least, most correctional facilities place an emphasis on preventing suicides through brief initial assessments and crisis interventions. The most common primary treatments used in correctonal settings includes psychopharmacology, group or individual psychotheraphy, substance abuse treatment, and occasionally relapse prevention programs (most often for sex offenders). Some facilities offer life skills training groups to all inmates, including meditation and anger management.

Inmates’ treatment needs are very complex. They can range from substance abuse, homelesness, a history of physical or sexual abuse or criminal recidivism. Rule violations in prisons are seen more frequently in mentally ill inmates. As the population of inmates in the US continues to grow, so has the subpopulation of mentally ill inmates with special needs or treatments; this can include women, juvenile offenders, the mentally/developmentally disabled, elderly or dying inmates, sexual offenders, and those with prevalent diseases.

Some of the inmates that correctional psychologists and forensic writers seem to have the most fascination with are serial killers. Serial killers are murderers who hunt humans- they find a distinct thrill not only in killing but in stalking their victims. The term “serial murderer” was first used by FBI agent RObert Ressler in the 1980’s though multiple homicide has been a part of human history as far back as anyone can remember. Mass media took the term, disseminating it throughout kill-culture, using it to replace the terms “lust-murder” and “mass murder”. The most distinct difference between mass murder and serial murder than many people miss, is that mass murder refers to killing many people all at once, but serial murder reders specifically to killing many people slowly and one-at-a-time.

The first serial killer to gain notoriety was an English man who went by the alias of Jack the Ripper, who murdered 5 London prostitutes in 1888. His legend is shrouded in mystery because his identity has never been clearly and confidently revealed. Hundreds of books and more than a dozen movies have been written about this killer.

In 1984, the FBi published a series of articles including the primary characteristics of the average serial killer- the data of which was all compiled from interviews with 36 currently imprisoned serial killers, all male. Based on these interviews, the profile of a typical serial killed is that of a white male between the ages of 25-35, often the only child or eldest in the family, who believes they are far more intelligent/superior to ordinary people. Because of this so-called “God-complex” they seem to have, they often believe the rules of society don’t apply to them. Though, these characteristcs are not concrete. For example, there have been many female serial killers, the most famous being a Hungarian Countess by the name of Elizabeth Bathory. She and her female followers imprisoned and murdered hundreds of women in her castle in the early 17th century.

Many serial killers became a household name throughout the 20th and 21st century. Albert DeSalvo (1931-1973) was commonly known as the Boston Strangler. John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994) was convicted and executed for the murder of 33 boys in the 1970’s; he buried most of their bodies under the floorboards of his house (which many believe was inspired by The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe). Ted Bundy (1946-1989) may be the most famous of them all- he went on a killing spree across the United States between 1974-1978, and although the exact number of his victims will never be known, he eventually confessed to raping and murdering over 30 women. He was sent to the electric chair for his crimes.

David Berkowitz (1953-), better known as the Son of Sam, and the .44 caliber killer, killed six people and wounded many more in the 1970’s, and was sentenced to six life-sentences in prison. Ed Gein (1906-1984) was a wisconsin native who murdered his victims and then skinned them, using their skin to make covers for his clothing and furniture. Although only two murders have been pinned on Gein with certainty, his brother died under mysterious circumstances in 1944, and six people disappeared from rural Wisconsin communities between 1947-1957.

David Berkowitz (1953–), better known as Son of Sam, killed six people and wounded many more in the 1970s. He was sentenced to six life sentences in prison. Ed Gein (1906–1984) was a Wisconsin native who murdered his victims and then skinned them. He used their skin to make clothing and cover furniture. Although only two murders could be pinned on Gein with certainty, his brother died under mysterious circumstances in 1944, and six people disappeared from rural Wisconsin communities between 1947 and 1957.

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Correctional Psychology And Serial Killers. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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